Where the hell have you been?

Where the hell have you been?

We’ve all heard the question, slinking in late at night, breath stinking of cigarettes and booze. That tender lump about the size and shape of a large class ring just peaking on the forehead. Or maybe hickeys blooming across your neck like rude, exotic flowers.

Okay, some of us have heard it.

Fine. I’ve heard it.

It’s a question that doesn’t necessarily expect an answer, dripping as it is with obvious disappointment. But it’s one I’ll try to answer here, since I’ve all but abandoned this blog after returning from the Wildacres Writer’s Workshop in North Carolina.

I’ve been busy.

I’ve been working on a novel for several years now and have just completed what I hope is the final round of major revisions. I’m excited. Now I’m cleaning up a few loose ends and adding a line or two of explanation here and there throughout the piece. Then it’s agent time (I hope).

I’m still thinking about food, still cooking, still doing my best to make meals for my family and myself. Meals that are simple, delicious, and make the most of every ingredient. I just haven’t had the time to photograph and write about it. But I will. I love it too much to stay away for very long.

Wednesday news bites for July 30, 2008

Florida sunshine
Photo credit: bored-now

Sense of Place: The Food of Florida
The Kitchn provides recipes and thoughts on the foods of my home state, Florida.

Making the most of your produce
The Seattle Times provides tips and tricks to preserving your summer produce.

Newspaper backlash
Good food is so yesterday

Culinate.com reports on the snarky tone food reporting has taken of late.

Mississippi is the fattest state for 3rd straight year
Colorado still leanest, D.C. loses weight

CalorieLab parses U.S. obesity. Seems poverty and sedintary lives are leading causes.

Does Fructose Make You Fatter?
The New York Times' Tara Parker-Pope brings us more bad news about fructose.


A Taste Trip to Thailand (Pad Thai Noodles)

pad thai-3

My July food column as it appeared in Satellite Magazine

This month we journey across the Pacific, leaving Peru and landing in Thailand to enjoy what is arguably the country’s most popular dish in the west, Pad Thai noodles. Pad Thai noodles is a traditional, single-pot dish with as many variations as there are people cooking it (one variant I found even called for ketchup). The secret is all in the sauce, so take some time and adapt it to your tastes. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment! You’ll probably want to go to one of the many local Asian markets in town for the tamarind sauce, but the rest of the ingredients should be available at the supermarket.

One other thing to remember: Asian cooking is often cooked fast and hot. The secret to being successful lies in the prep work. Once you get started, there’s rarely any downtime, so you can’t chop the scallions you forgot and you certainly can’t pop out to the store to pick up a last ingredient.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 Package of wide rice noodles (might be labeled as pad Thai noodles)
  • ½ block of extra-firm tofu
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil (or other low-flavor, high-heat-point oil)
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup chopped scallions (approximately three scallions, chopped on a bias—save a couple more from the bunch for garnish and crunch)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup bean sprouts (reserve some extra for garnish)
  • ½ cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 red chile, minced (you can substitute red pepper flakes)
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • Soy sauce

To begin, set the noodles in a large bowl and cover them with hot (not boiling) water. Allow them to soak for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking. While they soak, chop the peanuts (I like using the chef’s knife, but you could easily chop them using a clean coffee grinder or place them in a zip-top bag and smack them with a wooden spoon or mallet). You’ll also want to combine the fish sauce, tamarind sauce and sugar, chop the scallions, and prepare the tofu in pieces about the size of French fries. Heat a wok--if you don’t have a wok, you should. If you still don’t have a wok, you can certainly get away with using a skillet. One with slightly sloping sides will work best for Asian cooking. Add a tablespoon of peanut oil to your wok and place it over high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer in the pan (it’ll look like it’s skimming across the metal if you move the wok), add the tofu and several dashes of the soy sauce. Sear the tofu for about 30 seconds on each side, or just stir fry for about four minutes total. Searing will give the tofu a nice texture, however, so I would recommend letting it sit in the pan for at least a little bit. When the tofu is done, take it off the heat, drain it, and set it aside.

When the noodles have finished soaking, drain them and take a moment to get ready. The ingredients will come together very quickly, so you’ll need to work fast. Dinner will be ready about five minutes after the noodles go in. Heat the wok back up to high, add some additional oil if needed, and toss in the garlic and scallions. Let them cook about a minute, then add the egg.

Allow the egg to cook for about 10 seconds and scramble it. Then add the noodles and combined sauce. Toss everything together until all the noodles are colored with the sauce and ass the peanuts and bean sprouts. Keep the wok moving! Let these heat through for about 30 seconds to a minute. Finally, add the tofu, let everything heat through again, and transfer the whole lot to a giant serving dish. Garnish with the extra chopped scallions and bean sprouts, and serve with lime wedges and the minced chile.

Thailand has a rich culinary history, and its cuisine is marked by distinct regional differences. However, Thai food is united by a blend of flavors--savory, sweet, salty, and sour--wrapped in varying levels of heat. The important thing is balance and taste, so feel free to add ingredients as you see fit. Pad Thai noodles are well suited for shrimp, chicken or pork. Just remember to taste, taste, taste!

Wednesday news bites for July 23, 2008

Who Owns a River? Everyone Does
Rumination on the Kings River.

How to be a snob: drinking alcohol
GOOD: "I taste a hint of blackberry."
BAD: "The tang of Fruit Roll-Ups."

As Price of Grain Rises, Catfish Farms Dry Up
The New York Times looks at catfish farmers as an indicator of hardship for other food industries.

Food Econ 101
Paul Roberts discusses the economics of food production and why it's no longer working.

Sense of Place: The Flavors of Florida
A quick rundown of native Florida ingredients.


Wednesday news bites for July 16, 2008

HFCS is now 'natural'
New labeling reveals corn lobby's power.

As food costs soar, it's back to basics for meal planners
From growing their own to soups and stews, Americans battle the rising cost of food.

Cutting Out the Middlemen, Shoppers Buy Slices of Farms
Skipping grocery stores and markets, consumers are going straight to the source.

Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks, Cookbook of the Day
Tools, tips and techniques for the home cook, from "meez" to mirepoix.

The shocking truth about many "healthy" diets
Just because it's labeled organic doesn't mean it's good for you.


FoodGawker vs. Tastespotting

Screen grab from FoodGawker.com

When Tastespotting closed its doors, food bloggers everywhere gasped a singular question: "Where will we get our food porn?" Many also wondered how they could attract new readers. The Internet being what it is, however, several Tastespotting clones sprang up to take its place.

Now the big guns hve gotten into the mix. SeriousEats has introduced Photograzing. Given SeriousEats' traffic, Photograzing will no doubt generate a lot of interest as users scroll through page after page of immaculately photographed food. Just pay no attention to the obtrusive ad stuck right in the middle of the page. Pay no attention that it's from Wal-Mart. Just move on about your day and everything will be fine (as long as you buy steaks from Wal-Mart).

I think it's a colossal fuck up mistake. But if they're willing to give that one piece of real estate back to users, they've got a good product on their hands.

That said, I think there's no better replacement than FoodGawker (and it's not just because they've seen fit to post my photos). FoodGawker seems to have a better food mix (TS seems dominated by baked goods, which are the subject of a forthcoming rant as soon as I can corral my blinding rage into some kind of coherent, pithy post), and their new look is plain elegance. So, while I think it's great that Tastespotting is back, I think FoodGawker is where I'm going to be spending most of my time.


Wednesday news bites for July 2, 2008

Massive food news this week. These headlines are seriously just the tip of the ice berg.

The Magic of Old World Wine
An excellent article on the wonders of European wine, growers and the benefit of people fussy about microclimates.

Record corn prices raise other food costs
The economy, like the environment, is all interconnected. Get used to it.

The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating
Well, probably aren't eating.

Weekend Meditation: The Comfort Zone
Wake up, get out of your normal routine.

New Green Milk Jug Designs Cuts Costs But Is Difficult to Pour
We're all adults here, and we can't pour milk? This shouldn't be a concern after spill #1. Pay attention, and don't spill the next time.

Fishing with Rick Moonen: The chef and author talks about sustainable seafood

Perfect wines for sipping on the back porch
There's a big difference between food wines and drinking wines. Enjoy these wines all by themselves.

Harriet's list
Better than a personal shopper

Hydration and health
Drink until you're no longer thirsty

Happy chickens?
Another label for humanely raised animal products